Healthy eating possible on Thanksgiving

BYU dietetics senior Alexi Meredith prepares a side of mashed potatoes. Meredith said she believes Thanksgiving doesn’t have to lead to heavy weight gain. (Ryan Turner)

Thanksgiving feasts are associated with indulging and overeating. A study presented by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2016 showed Americans who participated in the study saw their weight increase by .02 percent during Thanksgiving time.

Nutritionists Leah Kirschbaum and Holly Knudson have Thanksgiving meal suggestions for students to stay healthy while enjoying their age-old favorites.

Kirschbaum, a dietitian practicing in Pleasant Grove, encouraged individuals to first drop the labels of “good” or “bad” from their perception of Thanksgiving foods. Kirschbaum is an advocate for eating intuitively and said labeling foods as good or bad tends to create a moral relationship with food, which can lead an eater to feel guilt and shame for eating certain foods.

“On a holiday like Thanksgiving, I encourage people to focus less on counting calories and dieting, and focus more on what is really important: spending quality time with those you love,” Kirschbaum said. “Dieting and worrying about calories on Thanksgiving can get in the way of enjoying a wonderful tradition and create unnecessary stress.”

There are useful nutrients in each of the traditional Thanksgiving foods, such as turkey, mashed potatoes or stuffing, when eaten in moderation, according to Kirschbaum. She encourages everyone to let go of the cheat-day mentality — which often leads to overindulgence — and instead try to stay mindful during the meal.

“You can still enjoy the meal and be mindful at the same time,” Kirschbaum said. “Try giving yourself permission ahead of time to allow yourself the foods you want. Pace yourself, take smaller portions and if you want more then you can get more, check in with your fullness cues and, most importantly, enjoy every bite.”

Knudson, a dietitian practicing in Sandy, said it’s not necessarily the Thanksgiving food that can be unhealthy, but the overeating.

“It’s not only too much food in general, but it’s overeating the wrong kind of food, mainly carbohydrates, which is really hard on blood sugar levels,” Knudson said. 

BYU dietetics senior Alexi Meredith also said she has seen people overeat on Thanksgiving, and feels as if it has become a part of the tradition.

“Everyone just eats as much as they can and goes back for seconds and thirds,” Meredith said.

Kirschbaum, Knudson and Meredith have suggestions to keep Thanksgiving portions under control. Kirschbaum recommends eating the typical macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat) on Thanksgiving day. Meredith said dividing up servings by food groups can be helpful because traditional Thanksgiving foods are balanced nutritionally. Knudson suggests certain nutritional tips for Thanksgiving day and encouraged individuals to abandon their fatalistic thinking.

“I would buy organic food, fill your plate once, have a good-sized serving of turkey, have some cooked vegetables, have a third cup of potatoes or stuffing, pick one or the other or have littler servings of both,” Knudson said.

Knudson also encourages individuals to consider taking digestive enzymes before eating, chewing their food well, avoiding drinking a lot of liquid and eating slowly to enjoy the meal.

Desserts are a major part of Thanksgiving, and Knudson suggests students use portion control with their desserts as well.

“Have your one dessert, or if you want to sample everything, have little portions of every dessert,” Knudson said. “Enjoy yourself and then don’t eat for four hours afterward, and that gives your insulin levels and your blood sugar time to come back to normal.”

The human body wasn’t made to digest and eat all day because it can be too difficult on the hormonal system, according to Knudson. She suggests taking time for an exercise break in order to do “damage control” after a Thanksgiving meal.

“If you can fit it in, at least go on a walk,” Knudson said. “Make it a family affair or get in some exercise, fifteen minutes of interval exercise. It’s effective and isn’t a time drain.”

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